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Following the dismissal of the first bellwether trial in the federal litigation over defective GM ignition switches, which may cause certain vehicles to suddenly shut off or the airbags to fail to deploy in an accident, a second trial is now scheduled to begin on March 14, 2016.
There are currently about 1,600 General Motors ignition switch lawsuits pending throughout the federal court system, which are centralized before U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman in the Southern District of New York for coordinated pretrial proceedings and a series of early trial dates, which are designed to help gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that is likely to be repeated throughout the litigation.
Earlier this month, the first GM bellwether case trial went before a jury, involving a claim brought by Robert Scheuer, who claimed that the auto maker knowingly sold vehicles with defective ignition switches, which caused the airbag in his 2003 Saturn Ion to be deactivated when it ran off the road and struck a tree in May 2014.
The case was quickly derailed, when evidence emerged that contradicted many of Scheuer’s claims and Judge Furman dismissed the case after determining that the plaintiff had attempted to defaud the court.
In an order (PDF) issued on Wednesday, Judge Furman noted that a second bellwether trial will begin on March 14, which is one of five planned early test cases. Dauert motions in the case must be filed by February 3, and Judge Furman has indicated that a joint proposed pretrial order and witness lists in the second case must be submitted no later than February 18.
GM Ignition Switch Recalls
The litigation stems from several GM ignition switch recalls issued in recent years, impacting certain Chevrolet, Pontiac, Saturn and other vehicles.
Evidence has emerged that indicates officials at GM had known about problems with the ignition switches for more than a decade, yet failed to take any steps to correct the problem or notify owners. The company was eventually fined $35 million by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), but continues to face injury and wrongful death claims stemming from accidents involving the vehicles.
Since June 2015, all lawsuits filed in U.S. District Courts nationwide have been centralized before Judge Furman as part of a federal MDL, or multidistrict litigation. The cases are consolidated to reduce duplicative discovery into common issues, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings and to serve the convenience of the parties, witnesses and the courts..
A third bellwether trial is expected to begin May 2, with additional trials planned for July 25, September 12, and November 14.
If GM settlement agreements are not reached to resolve large numbers of cases following the bellwether trials, the auto maker may face hundreds of individual cases in U.S. District Courts nationwide.